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10 top tips for instructional designers

schedule 2 months, 1 week, 5 days by Daniel Howard in Virtual College

Hand reaching for creative cloud

We know that creating e-learning courses can be difficult. Whether you’re bogged down with research, overloaded with text or just out of ideas, don’t panic! We understand your pain. To help you in your quest to create brilliant e-learning, here are our 10 top instructional design tips:

1. Understand your audience

The most important starting point of every e-learning course is the learner; they need to benefit from what you create. Talk to those surrounding the project: stakeholders, managers, HR and the learners themselves (if possible) to get a real understanding of what they want to accomplish. That way, you have a better idea of which method to use to ensure they receive the best learning experience, retain the most information and are able to progress with their development.

2. Make sure the content is relevant

Once you know who your audience is, make sure the course content is relevant to their needs. Sometimes, stripping down the idea to the basics can help you filter out what is useful and what isn’t; create learning objectives to give the content more structure, whilst directing the learning journey in a logical way. Another way to make sure the content is relevant is to sort it into two categories: ‘need to know’ and ‘nice to know’. This can also help cut the content down if you’re overloaded with information.

3. Do your research

Part of being an instructional designer is learning the content yourself! This could mean hours of trawling through books, the web and listening to experts. However, having access to literally millions of information portals means that you could potentially end up including incorrect facts or material in your course. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert in everything - that’s why we build relationships with subject matter experts (SMEs). Together, you can double- and triple-check your research to ensure it’s correct for the course and the learner.

4. Don’t believe the hype (at least not all the time)

It can be incredibly frustrating being asked to create a course utilising a trend or ‘buzzword’ that doesn’t necessarily work for the content or subject matter. A great example of this is gamification. Chances are you could create a game for 99% of your courses but the question is: does it add, contribute or improve the learner’s experience? Including e-learning trends just because they’re popular doesn’t really add anything to the learner’s experience; they need to be well thought-out and presented in a way which works with the content, to provide the learner with a memorable experience. So don’t feel pressured into including anything which doesn’t benefit the learner, but always be willing explain your reasons why.

5. Learn from others

Share as much as you can with other people - ask questions, have discussions and watch what they do. Although tutorials, books and websites are great, some of the most valuable and time-saving tips come from asking other people how they would fix a problem, approach a topic or structure a page. Don’t forget to share your experience too, you might just help someone in the same situation!

6. Use visual aids

Ever heard of the term actions speak louder than words? Well, so do graphics. It’s not always easy to explain an idea, theory or concept just through words, and it can be just as difficult to understand when reading it. Use search engines and image websites to find supporting images or a series of graphics that can help portray your idea on screen. Even if you don’t use what you’ve found, the visuals you come across could inspire new creative ideas or build on a familiar concept, helping you to present the information in a learner-friendly way.

7. Break the content up

As a learner, there’s nothing worse than coming across an e-learning course that’s basically a digital textbook. To make the experience more engaging and more memorable, break the content up into bite-sized chunks. Space these chunks over separate pages to develop a story, making it easy for the learner to take the information in and put it into context.

8. Create a story

Short stories and case studies certainly have a place in e-learning. Think about the last time you told someone a story you read or heard. Why did you remember it? Did you put your own spin on it? One of the best parts of storytelling is that everyone has their own unique way to share a story. Emotive learning, aided by a well-told story, can be the best way to get an important message across; it can evoke feelings or memories which help build upon the point being made, personalising the experience for the learner and making it more memorable.

9. Give learners the opportunity to reflect

It’s often not enough to just present your learner with information. Try to engage with them, ask them questions and have them really think about the content. You can do this in all kinds of different ways using scenarios, questions, activities or even exercises where they write down their thoughts and feelings. Remember, don’t just include them for the sake of it, reflective exercises should be used for the benefit of the learner.

10. Bank your ideas

One day you’re creating a high-level, bespoke piece of content, the next you’re building a simple click-to-reveal course. Every day is different and, in such a fast-paced environment, it would be easy to forget what you did that was so successful in your last project. Always keep a record of any work that you were particularly proud of, received great reviews for or generated plenty of leads and sales. Whilst it’s good to think of new ideas, it’s always useful to have your old, tried and trusted techniques to fall back on if all else fails.


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Daniel Howard Author

Author: Daniel Howard

Daniel is an Instructional Designer working as part of the growth and innovation team within Virtual College. He has a degree in journalism and enjoys writing and working with a wide range of content. Other interests include; sports, film and travel.

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